Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Affordable Housing Bill

House bill would help make housing affordablePublished On: January 27, 2006BY Leah Ward Page: Section: Main/Home FrontBy LEAH BETH WARD YAKIMA HERALD-REPUBLIC

The hot housing market has been very, very good to state coffers, contributing largely through real estate taxes to a $1.45 billion surplus.So, a few Democrats figure, it's time to share some of the benefits with those less likely to be enjoying the boom: those needing affordable housing, including farm workers.House Bill 2418 would spend $25 million each year for the next four years from collections of the real estate excise tax. In the first year, about $8 million would be set aside for an on-farm housing loan program and rental vouchers for migrant and seasonal workers. That sum could change through amendments.The rest of the money would be set aside for programs ranging from housing for those with developmental disabilities and victims of domestic violence.The sponsor, Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, said he had an "ah ha" moment last summer after spending a few days picking apples in Bob Brody's orchards in Brewster."It was instrumental, and I had the sore wrists and cold feet to prove it," Springer said Thursday in a telephone interview about his brief picking experience and the decision to sponsor a bill.Springer said orchardists like Brody tell him that on-farm housing would help them attract workers.With some 60,000 seasonal workers moving through the agricultural industry statewide every season, and roughly only 2,000 housing units that the state knows of, "We're not even close to meeting the need. So you have people sleeping in forests, by rivers or eight to a room," Springer said.In Yakima County, the estimated demand for year-round residences is 13,095. About 4,237 seasonal units are needed, according to the Farm Worker Housing Trust.Tom Byers, a partner in Seattle-based Cedar River Group, which assisted in organizing the Washington State Farm Worker Housing Trust more than two years ago, said the support is gratifying."We're seeing tremendous support for farm-worker housing issues compared to where we were two or three years ago. Everyone understands the need for action," Byers said.The real estate excise tax is imposed on the sale price of property at a rate of 1.028 percent.

Leah Beth Ward can be reached at 577-7626 or lward@yakimaherald.com.

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